Gorillaz co-creator Jamie Hewlett had, until recently, been remarkably quiet since the release of their last album ‘Plastic Beach’ in 2010. It’s always known straight away what Damon Albarn is up to, but Hewlett is able to flitter in the shadows and only reveal his latest projects when it suits him. Said projects seem to have all come at once now, with his new (and debut) exhibition The Suggestionists opening today (18th November) at London’s Saatchi Gallery, and work also started on Gorillaz mk. 4. Hewlett tells us how each of his different projects inform each other, and how what he’s produced for the exhibition could be seen bleeding into the next phase of Murdoc and co.
The Suggestionists is a three-part exhibit - ‘Tarot’, ‘Honey’, and ‘Pines’ - drawing together over twenty years of experience and experimenting, and including such pieces as a tower of cards, hundreds of hand-drawn pine trees, and an homage to ’60s and ’70s erotic magazines. The artist has been working on the art that has ended up in this new showcase since the release of ‘Plastic Beach’, and didn’t originally intend for the trio of pieces to come together in such a way. “I had no intention of exhibiting these pieces together, or at all, when I first started working on them at the start of the decade, but towards the end, I started to see a link between them all. I’ve wanted to do an exhibition for years, and finally had the relevant pieces which fitted together well. I waited because I wanted it to feel right, and wanted it to be a little bit different.”
Somewhat surprisingly, The Suggestionists is Hewlett’s first exhibition in his decorated twenty-year career. “I’ve always been a bit lazy in trying to get an exhibition together, and at the same time I wanted to wait until I had something I was very happy with, and that I could exhibit at the right place. When I finished ‘Plastic Beach’ I wanted to go to the opposite end of the planet and do something completely different. It’s not always necessarily the content of your work that gets influenced by what you did before, just wanting to try something new. In the last five years, I’ve been learning to paint in oils, which is the only medium I’ve never tried to use in my career. I made some terrible mistakes, and unfortunately you can’t rip up a canvas - you just have to stare at it in the corner of a room until you can paint over it.”
As the polarising three phases of Gorillaz would suggest, Hewlett isn’t one to stay in his comfort zone or re-hash old ideas. “I’m into trying different things. Doing the same thing all the time isn’t very inspiring, and doesn’t get me out of bed in the morning. All three of these projects are different, through different mediums and with different subjects. The ‘Honey’ erotic movie posters were all photographed by me. I got myself a lighter camera and learned to use that, and I took photographs of my wife - she agreed to be my model for some reason! I don’t think you should stick with the thing you’re comfortable with, as you won’t progress and move forward.”
"The next step for Gorillaz will incorporate everything I've learned, and will open doorways for new ideas as well."
— Jamie Hewlett
The five years that The Suggestionists has taken to be realised means it is now a chronicle of Hewlett's progression as an artist and photographer since the turn of the decade, and he can see his own progression in the final pieces. "The pine trees are a body of work that shows a process between the very first drawing, which I thought was great at the time, to the end, where the drawings are significantly better, and it shows a natural progression across the creation of the work." Maintaining pieces of work across a five-year period felt exhausting at times, but turned into a form of self-analysis in itself, seeing how the work progressed over time. "I became a little obsessed in a two-month period and couldn't stop drawing pine trees. I was dreaming about texture and bark and had a 'might be insane' few months. I drew the very last one, put down my pen, and knew I'd never draw another fucking pine tree as long as I live. I looked back at the first trees I'd drawn months earlier and would think 'this is shit!', but that's okay, because it shows a process."
Amongst the insomnia-inducing pine trees, Hewlett has also been "shutting myself away" to work on the first steps of the new phase of Gorillaz, with plans in motion and a release date earmarked for 2016. “I’m working on it at the moment, and it’s going very well. I’m very excited. I don’t want to say too much about it, but I’m at that phase of experimentation. What I try not to do when I’m working in this creative period, the cooking of the mess, is go to other peoples’ exhibitions and look at other peoples’ work. I close my eyes, and don’t want to know what anyone else is doing. Doing that has kind of ruined the creative process for me in the past, and I don’t want to let that happen again.”
Hewlett remains tight-lipped about how his work on The Suggestionists may have influenced the work he's currently undertaking for Gorillaz, for fear of "giving away a clue". It's clear that nothing the artist has created could be discarded from influencing what he does next though, as an artist that's always changing and taking in his environment: "The next step for Gorillaz will incorporate everything I've learned, and will open doorways for new ideas as well. There's no way I want to do it the same way I've done in the past."
The Suggestionists opens from today (18th November) until 2nd December at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Find more information here.